Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Political Science


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

James Spriggs


Forty years ago C. Herman Prichett: 1969) observed that "[P]olitical scientists who have done so much to put the `political' in `political jurisprudence' need to emphasize that it is still `jurisprudence.'" In this dissertation project I seek to help correct this imbalance by providing three fresh approaches to understanding how legal factors influence the choices judges and justices make. Essay 1 focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court's agenda setting decisions. Drawing from the archival papers of Justice Harry A. Blackmun, I analyze the extent to which considerations such as legal conflict among the circuit courts motivate justices to deviate from casting a policy-based agenda setting vote. Essay 2 focuses on the opinion writing process on the U.S. Courts of Appeals. In particular, I ask what factors lead judges on the circuit courts to cite some legally relevant previous opinions while omitting others? Finally, Essay 3, which also examines circuit court opinion writing, explores the determinants of how judges choose to positively or negatively interpret relevant previous decisions in a given issue area. In sum, this pro ject seeks to provide an important contribution to our substantive understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court and the circuit courts while simultaneously attempting to demonstrate that both legal and policy considerations influence judicial decision making.


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